Belfast Telegraph

Team of the Year winner: Ulster

The Team of the Year prize for 2012 was more competitive than at any other time in its history.

The nominees for this award are on this page, but others such as Linfield, Crusaders, Derry City, Ballinamallard United, Pegasus Hockey Club, Cairndhu Rowing Club, Armagh Ladies Gaelic team, the Northern Ireland Netball team and Lisnagarvey men's hockey team all had memorable years.

It takes a high class side to beat all the above and the others short-listed and that side is the Ulster Rugby team.

What an incredible 2012 the men from Ravenhill enjoyed with many shrewd judges declaring that the last 12 months have provided us with the best rugby ever produced by an Ulster side.

The first half of the year will be remembered for Ulster's fabulous march under Brian McLaughlin towards the Heineken Cup final when the likes of captain Johann Muller, Rory Best, Tom Court, John Afoa, Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Ruan Piennar, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble and Darren Cave delivered heroics, including a famous quarter-final success in Munster, to take the side to the decider of Europe's top competition.

Unfortunately, Leinster proved too strong on a May day at Twickenham, but anyone thinking that would have a negative impact on Ulster were mistaken.

With new coach Mark Anscombe in charge, the Ravenhill heroes were magnificent in the second half of the year, starting their campaign with a record-breaking run of victories that took them to the top of the Rabo Pro Direct League and their Heineken Cup pool with players such as Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Nick Williams coming to the fore.

Ulster have been a joy to watch over 12 exciting months and deserve to be crowned Team of the Year.

Nominee - Loughgiel Shamrocks

The small club from Co Antrim created huge waves in hurling circles in 2012 by winning the All-Ireland title, ending a 29-year wait for the crown.

And boy did they do it in style producing a brilliant performance to beat Offaly side Coolderry in the decider in Dublin.

With the confidence gained by their Croke Park success in March, they went on to win the Antrim and Ulster titles again which perhaps could lead to yet more All-Ireland glory in 2013.

Nominee - Belfast Giants

In 2012 the Giants finally got their hands on the Elite League title, having agonisingly missed out by a single point in each of the two previous seasons.

Doug Christiansen's men were crowned champions on a thrilling Friday night at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast beating the previous champions and their only remaining rivals for the title, the Sheffield Steelers.

The Giants also reached the Challenge Cup final and put in a battling display in the Continental Cup.

Another sign of how successful the year was for the Belfast-based team was that some team members were chosen to represent Great Britain in the Intercontinental Cup tournament.

Nominee - Crossmaglen Rangers

The men from Armagh just cannot be stopped.

In March 2012, Crossmaglen Rangers became All-Ireland champions once again by beating Garrycastle in a replay 2-19 to 1-7.

It was another top drawer performance by Crossmaglen, who are the most feared and respected GAA club side in Ireland.

There was more to come from this brilliant team when Rangers won the Armagh and Ulster titles in the second part of the year.

Belfast Telegraph


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